U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

The Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse with Online Sexual Abuse Added

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 149 Issue: 106634 Dated: Mar 2024
Date Published
March 2024

This article examines the impacts of two proposed questions that were designed to determine online sexual abuse, to the list of generic questions about child sexual abuse, and which increased ability to identify the survivors with the highest levels of current psychological distress.


Research efforts are measuring various forms of online sexual abuse. There is a need to incorporate such measures of online sexual abuse into the calculation of overall prevalence rates for child sexual abuse. A sampling of 2,639 respondents aged 18-to-28 was recruited from a nationally representative online panel. Using an online questionnaire, respondents were assessed via self-report about 9 types of online sexual abuse in childhood and were also assessed with two questions that have been used to assess generic child sexual abuse prevalence in previous surveys. The addition of the online abuse to the generic questions about child sexual abuse raised the overall prevalence rate from 13.5 percent to 21.7 percent. The rate for females increased from 19.8 percent to 31.6 percent and for males from 6.2 percent to 10.8 percent. The largest independent contribution to the overall combined increase were the offenses involving non-consensual image sharing and voluntary online sexual interactions with an impermissibly older adult partner. The inclusion of the online sexual abuse exposures also increased the ability to identify the survivors with the highest levels of current psychological distress. The study highlights the importance of counting and including online sexual abuse in efforts to estimate the overall prevalence of childhood sexual abuse. The paper proposes two or three questions that could be added to sexual abuse questionnaires to assess these online offenses efficiently. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: March 1, 2024